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Child custody dispute centers on Native American ancestry

An unusual child custody case has been making its way through the courts for nearly four years, and has recently led to a high-profile custody change. That change removed a child from her long-time foster home in favor of a different placement. The child custody dispute centers on the provisions laid out within the Indian Child Welfare Act, which has led to a great deal of debate in Texas and across the nation.

The child at the center of the matter is 6 years old. She was removed from the care of her parents at a very early age, due to drug issues and a criminal history. After being placed in two foster homes for brief periods of time, she was settled in with a family that wanted to care for her for as long as needed. Because the little girl's biological father has a small degree of Native American ancestry, the child is considered to be 1/64 Choctaw. That is enough to include her within the provisions of the ICWA, which exists to ensure that Native American children remain connected to their heritage and are placed with native families whenever possible.

Eventually, the family sought to adopt their foster daughter. However, the child has distant relatives that have custody of her biological sister, and who have pushed for custody of the girl. Because of the biological and ancestral link, the little girl was removed from her foster home and sent to live with her relatives. She has had contact with that part of her family over the years, including visits and Skype communication.

The case has garnered media attention in Texas and across the nation due to the foster family's insistence that they should have been allowed to adopt their foster daughter and provide her with a continuation of the care that she has received over the past four years. Others support the placement with family, no matter how distant. This is an example of a child custody dispute in which there are no simple solutions, and where two parties both want to provide a loving home for a child in need. It has also led to increased focus on the Indian Child Welfare Act, and debate over whether the protections afforded by that law are still  necessary.  

Source:, "Choctaw Nation issues statement on child custody dispute", Maria Moore-Kass, March 24, 2016

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